The first time I saw William Mapother’s work was in the excellent film, In The Bedroom. I thought, “Wow, who is this guy?” I wasn’t the only one who thought that because since then, he’s been working non-stop ever since.
He’s currently starring in the film, Another Earth as John Burroughs, a composer who has suffered a tragic loss at the hands of Rhoda (Brit Marling). When Rhoda is released from prison, she finds a way into his life and the two form an odd friendship. When she gets a chance to travel to Earth 2 – the mysterious mirror planet that has appeared in the sky – she must make a decision to tell Burroughs the truth about her or leave and start a new life.
When Mapother and Marling (who is also the co-writer) are on-screen together, that makes the film. Their scenes are touching and warm and you’re hoping that the two can have a chance to be together. Mapother grounds the story; his character, even in silence lets you in on the rage and sadness he’s feeling inside. It’s a really fantastic performance.
I got a chance to talk to William about his work on the film, how he prepares for a role, bad auditions and his advice to actors!
For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes
How did you get involved in the film? Mike [Cahill] was a first time director, Brit hadn’t had a lot of experience yet…
William Mapother: When I was in New York in the summer 2009 at the Shakespeare Lab at the Public Theater, which puts on Shakespeare in the Park. Every summer, they bring in about a twelve of actors and put them together with some of the best classical acting teachers in the country and teach them how to play Shakespeare soup to nuts. And while I was there, I made a list of all the casting directors in New York whom I hadn’t met over the years and sent that to my manager and asked him to set up a meeting with one of them. I went over to the meeting. It was in Chelsea, the elevator was out, fourth floor walk up. It was noisy, dusty, there was construction going on, 20 minutes in and out, very inauspicious. Two weeks later in L.A., a script arrived with an offer for a role. And they said, “We have a first time feature director, a new actress who is not in SAG, and it’s about $100 a day. Are you interested?”
I read the script and I liked the script. I realized I never played a character like this and then I looked at the footage that Mike and Brit had already shot of them because they began shooting the movie before I came aboard. They couldn’t find an actor for my role. They had been looking for about six months and they shot a bunch of Brit’s scenes by herself and with her family. And from the footage, I could tell that Mike knew how to shoot and Brit knew how to act, and then I met with them for lunch and we got along really well and I realized that they were committed to making the best possible movie without ego or status, and then it would be a lot fun, and then at that point it was a no-brainer decision for me.
Throughout the film, you’re like just living with this tremendous grief. Are you someone who has to live with those emotions day in and day out when you’re filming or can you turn it off and on?
William Mapother: It’s somewhere in between. It’s not simply a matter of turning it on and off. It requires a little bit of ramping up at the beginning of the day, a little bit of ramping down at the end of the day, but I try not to take it home. For a couple of reasons… One, obviously, it can have a rather dramatic effect on the other parts of your life and two, it diminishes the specialness of performance and the energy and concentration required for performance can sometimes be affected if it feels just like every other part of your day.
How do you decide what you’re going to do? The offers you get or the roles you pursue?
William Mapother: Well, the answer is simple. The first answer is: that material which I’m drawn to. Sometimes, I’m drawn to a very powerful story and sometimes I’m drawn to a terrific character. The second part of the answer is: I’m drawn to being hired, you know what I mean? It’s a very competitive business especially for actors, and in the last several years, it has become noticeably more competitive. There are fewer big films being made, a number of television dollars have gone to the internet. The industry has lost a lot of eyeballs to videogames and the internet, and it has gotten tougher to find work. So, you know, to a degree, I can exert some choices and then to a degree, I have to work.
It’s always kind of amusing to actors when reviewers come and, “Oh, he only plays this sort of roles,” and if you’re saying that about an A-lister, that’s one thing but it’s almost as if they are speaking of us as if we’re walking down a grocery store aisle, selecting types of laundry soap. As if we have that many alternatives available to us. A lot of times, you just have to take the jobs you’re given as long as you can find some way to connect to them.
I have always been told, if they typecast you, yeah, get type cast. It’s work.
William Mapother: It is work. There is a little bit of a downside to that because obviously, with In The Bedroom and Lost, I got a certain type of role which was offered to me again and again, and I’ve been able to play outside that role in some TV and in some small independents. It can provide a steady stream of work but the downside is once you get a steady stream, your ambitions rise, and that is when you begin to feel the constraint of that pattern.
I read that you were, prior to acting, you were a teacher for a couple of years?
William Mapother: Yes, in east L.A. for three years. I was the substitute teacher.
What subjects? Anything that they called you in on?
William Mapother: That’s exactly right.
So how did you go from that? Had you always wanted to be an actor growing up?
William Mapother: No, I always loved the movies. Right after I graduated from Notre Dame, I worked as a PA on three movies, and then I worked in script development, project development for a couple of years. And then I thought, I need a break. My friends rented a van to drive around the country after graduation. I never got mine. So my driving around the country in a van was teaching in East L.A. for three years. And I did that and I thought, “this isn’t quite for me.” So I came back into the film industry and went to New York for six months, directed a play off-off Broadway and took an acting class and found it more fun and far more challenging than I expected. I came back to L.A., I get took some improv classes at the Groundings and that really was not for me. And then, I was lucky enough to fall into a two-year Miesner school in Santa Monica, the Baron Brown Studio. That’s where I received the foundation for my acting. The whole time I was writing. I still write, but for some reason my acting took off faster than my writing did.
When you get a part, how do you prepare for it? Does it change per role or per project? What are the first couple of things you out of the box?
William Mapother: The first couple of things I do, I initially read the script with an eye to deciding whether or not I’m going to do it. If I decide to do it, I reread the script with… how do I describe this… I read the script with what I hope is a blank canvass emotionally and intellectually so that I allow the script to affect me on its own terms. And that initial reaction forms the basis of how I’m probably going to approach the character.
And then from there, the process varies from role to role. Usually, it’s from the inside out and sometimes, it’s from the outside in. I’ve had a couple of roles in which I have gone to wardrobe and put on a certain outfit, looked in the mirror, and thought, “Okay, I understand this guy.”
What’s the worst auditioning you’ve ever had? Where you just walked out and it was like, “I suck.”
William Mapother: Oh, my God. I feel that 90% of my acting was like that, Lance. I’m not kidding you. I’ve lost the ability to tell whether or not an audition has gone well. I’m like every other actor I know. Some of them, I will walk out and think, “Oh my God, I just nailed that. They are going to be calling me within two minutes. I’ve got that damn job.” Nothing, zero, no response. [laughs] And then other ones I walk out and say, “Well, I guess maybe I’m not too old to go to law school.” And then I’ll get a call through my agent, “they loved you. They’re just gonna offer it to you.” Most of them feel like they were subpar. I always come out thinking about things I could have done differently or could have done better.
The auditions you get called in for, are any of them where you get super excited, like, “Holy crap, I would love to have this part,” or is it just another job?
William Mapother: They are both types. There are some that I think, “Boy, I’d like to be working and I’ll take this damn job.” And the, sure, there are other ones in which, I’m either excited about the specific character or I’d love to be a part of the project. Maybe I love the director or I love the time period, or the milieu. So, it’s really all over the map.
In my experience is similar to a lot of actors I know. Some of whom work a lot and some of them don’t work very much. It’s all over the map. It’s very difficult to predict how any given audition is gonna go and it’s very difficult to predict the nature of the next three jobs I will be offered. It’s really moment to moment. The business has gotten to be very competitive. Sometimes, I have to audition for things and sometimes they offer them to me.
How do you see it changing in the next couple of years?
William Mapother: I don’t think anybody knows. I think we’re all praying that the industry finds a revenue stream which will replace home video. Because if they don’t and home revenues continue to fall, the business is going to become more and more difficult. There’s going to be less work and less money.
What is your advice to actors?
William Mapother: A number of young actors ask me for advice or to meet them for coffee. They know me through family or friends or schools and I tend to steer away from offering inspirational talks. I figure they can get those from anyone. My advice tends to be full of practical tips on how to survive living as an actor. How to survive the business of acting.
I suppose most simply, it can summarized as remember that it’s a marathon. In other words, live, spend, socialize with an eye for the long-term. You know, a lot of young actors, I have seen a lot of young actors who had to go home, move out of L.A. because they ran out of money. Sometimes, it’s because they had a little bit of success and they spent the money assuming there was going to be more and they didn’t have enough to carry them through the lean years. Or, they got in trouble with laziness, drinking, drugs, the wrong crowd and their habits encouraged them to grow lax about their craft. It’s just too damn competitive to do that. It requires a great deal of self-management, acting does and most people don’t appreciate that. My job, generally is not acting. My job is finding a job.
Whenever I’m on a set, I’m always thinking, “Ok, how am I going to do this again?”
William Mapother: Yeah.
Of course, you’re at a much higher level than I am.
William Mapother: Well, you know what, Lance, that’s the thing about this business. It’s both terrifying and exciting. Next week, I could be interviewing you.
I highly doubt that, but that would be cool.
William Mapother: I mean, Lance, we made this movie, I’m not kidding, not a shoestring but a tip of a shoestring. Two years ago, less than two years ago, Brit Marling had two unproduced screenplays and no SAG credits. She is now represented by CAA just to do this movie with Richard Gere and she is one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood right now. That’s less than two years.
So my other, so the only other piece of advice I would offer, and I just remembered this, is: you must be proactive. That’s the big take away from the Brit Marling story. She wasn’t finding roles that she liked so she wrote them for herself. You must be proactive. Setting up meetings and establishing contacts in everything. You must be proactive.